Dear E + J

Dear Emerald and Jasper,

IMG_5440In response to the above note to me, I did write back on Christmas Eve. My letter was lost to cyber space, which is why, in years past, I have always responded via pen and paper. There are some things that are just too precious for electronic media, and my letters to and from you were one of those things. All your previous letters are stored inside the pages of “A Wish for Wings That Work”. Reading that book is a Christmas tradition that seems to have fallen by the wayside these last few years. It is probably just as well, that book always makes your mom cry, and Christmas Eve should be a happy time, filled with light, and food.

Your mom has struggled with traditions since your dad died. Actually, she has struggled with traditions since you were wee children. Did you know that your parents never had a Christmas tree of any kind until you were born? Your dad left to guide in the Wallowas over the holiday and came home to a miniature live tree on top of a coffee table the year Emerald arrived on this earth. Your mom just needed some light on the darkest days of the year, and the twinkling bulbs kept her company as she nursed her child back to sleep in the middle of the night. That tree died, and by the time Jasper arrived, a cut tree was accepted, and they put the tree inside the playpen and let you guys have free run. Emerald made a salt dough ornament that year, and I fed it to that cute border collie that lived with you then. I heard she barfed it up and your parents did not find it for a week. Sorry about that. That dog ate your first gingerbread houses as well, so your mom never did that again.

I watched your Christmas traditions grow and change as the both of you gained altitude and attitude. Your dad continued to guide in the Wallowas over the holiday, and your mom stayed home with you while you were too young to spend all day out in the snow. There was one winter where he left, the furnace died, and while it was being repaired she took you sledding at the old Tamarack ski area on Moscow Mountain. There was hot cocoa, and friends, and most importantly sunshine above the inversion that had been covering Moscow for almost a week. It was so much fun, your mom repeated the day for 4 days running. Sunshine, cocoa, and tired kids at the end of the day. Your dad surprised us that year by coming home early. You, Emerald, did not want to see him. It meant you had to share your New Year’s Eve peel and eat shrimp, a treat that mom told you she could not afford to eat when your dad was home. You, Jasper, just jumped into his arms and said, “Daddy, daddy, you’re home! You stink!” I brought you presents, a wooden train set surrounding the first tree that was allowed out of a playpen, a set of skis that never worked anywhere but the living room carpet.

IMGP1696More time went on, and your mom got tired of being left behind over the holidays. You were old enough to go with, had enough body fat to stay warm in the snow as long as you were moving, and they started taking you skiing, taking you into the backcountry, taking you on adventures in places that few people see in the winter time. You, Emerald thought they were all forced marches and couldn’t understand why this family never went anywhere WARM over the solstice. Jasper, you were oblivious as long as they fed you enough calories, preferably in the form of cinnamon rolls. Your dad finally realized that it was not a vacation for your mom if IMGP1699she had to do all the packing and all of the food, and he made arrangements for others to do so (he never really got the hang of cooking, let alone over a propane burner). Your mom also got tired of having to take the tree down on Christmas day in order to leave town the day after. That was the beginning of the ski tree, and the fake arguments as to who would water it, and who would vacuum up the needles. I kept bringing presents, usually ski gear that was got on pro-deal or at ski swaps. Your mom began to get your hand me downs, and was glad for them.

IMG_0017Then, your dad got sick, and the prognosis was not good. Emerald finally had her wishes answered because Bonaire was on her dad’s bucket list, and there was no place warmer for the winter holidays. You stuck your faces in the clear tropical waters, let your dad give you rides in a truck he really shouldn’t have been driving, Fireworksand ate fish every night while your uncle ordered yet something more with chicken. I brought you suitcases that year, and they were most useful presents, but I am sure you would have traded them, and the tropical time that came with them, for something that not even I could bring. Santa celebrated the fragility of life with you that year, and shook his booty during New Year’s fireworks.

IMG_1596The next Christmas, your dad was gone. It was recent, and raw, and ugly. Your mom had no energy left for traditions that year. The only ones that survived were the ones that involved lights and food. So many years later, she was still seeking light on the darkest days of the year, and nursing her children back to sleep. A hike on Christmas Day with the friends that had held her all year brought the light back in. Returning to the Tamarack area on skis instead of sleds to spread your dad’s ashes. The ski tree. Caramels, roast beast, cinnamon rolls, and french onion soup. Your mom went to the Wallowas that year, and couldn’t ski anything steep for fear of falling, and wanting never to get up. I brought you presents, but I do not remember what they were. I cried as I alit on your slippery roof that year, and just grabbed whatever was on top.

IMG_1565Time has marched on. Christmas traditions have morphed, and yet stayed the same. The ski tree still goes up, though many of the ornaments never make it out of the box. The intimate Christmas hike had at least 38 people this year, though it was special because BOTH LaFortune children were actually in attendance. Cinnamon rolls were made, though the breadmaker responsible for the dough has to be borrowed back now from the person it was gifted to a couple of years ago. Christmas Day gatherings have announced “this is the last year”, and your next Christmas morning will not occur in this house that has been home for 20 years. I brought you presents this year. Maps. Maps to remind you of where you have been and where you have yet to go. And pajamas. Pajamas to let you know that no matter where you go, no matter where I deliver presents next year, you will always have a home. There will be light there, and there will be food.

Your mom struggles with holiday traditions. She still needs light on these darkest days of the year, and she still nurses her love for you in her heart as you and she drift off to sleep in now separate beds. Hikes, and singing, and breakfast, and soup will go on. But the tree may come full circle to a live one again, sledding and wood cutting may replace skiing, and gatherings may have to occur under stars rather than town lights. I will continue to bring you presents in whatever hamlet you decide to call home. Besides, I have to come back next year. Blitzen seems to have developed a crush on Faith, and defected part way back to the North Pole. Keep an eye out for him, would ya?

Love, Santa


So Cold

Horse WatererWe are bracing for a blast of cold air here in the Pacific Northwest. Been eating tomatoes and greens out of the garden through Halloween. Unbelievable! We spent most of the weekend getting prepared for the first sustained sub-freezing weather of this Fall. So we now have a shed that is wired, and heat tape around the temporary water storage tank for the horses. Their current watering system is a frost free hydrant valve with a paddle, but the water supply is just a gravity fed storage tank, and the hoses into and out of that can freeze. We are still a little ways out from a weatherized water supply, so the heat tape is a temporary fix for the temporary supply.

Dad Inspired Corvallis SunsetToday, this morning at 2:16 am precisely, is the anniversary of Jim’s death. He’s been on all of our minds lately. Jasper’s picture from Corvallis, Emerald’s river glee and anticipation of real snow. Greg senses my introspection, acknowledges it and respects it. Messages from friends and fellow widows. Last night as I was going to sleep, I spoke with what remains of Jim’s spirit in my life. Selfishly, I asked him for a sign. A sign that this all really happened. A sign that the direction my life is headed in is a good one, the right one. I did not really expect an answer. Jim does not show up in my dreams on any regular basis, and when he does, he is generally too busy for me. Still, it was my last thought before drifting off to sleep.

I awoke a little after 2 am. I was just so cold. It was the kind of cold that is from the inside out, rather than an effect of the environment. The last time I had felt that was the morning Jim died. Laying on the couch after the funeral home had taken his body away, I was just so cold. I actually contemplated going to master’s swim that morning, but it was pouring rain, parking was messed up due to construction, and I was just too cold. There was nothing I could do to warm up, and no amount of covers or thermostat adjustment helped. A big bowl of oatmeal made by Emerald finally stopped the shivering.

In the wee hours of this morning, I just rolled over and stated I was cold. Greg pulled up the down comforter and held me. I was sweating within minutes, such is the nature of the menopausal internal combustion engine. I woke later with the alarm, I did go swimming, the parking was fine, and I actually enjoyed the crispness of the air during meetings up at Rudd Rd. It wasn’t until later this morning that I realized that the cold at 2 am may have been a “sign.” If so, what does it mean? The snow came in earnest the week after Jim died, and this year his death anniversary is marked by a 60 degree drop in temperature. That guy always did love weather with personality, unless it interfered with his outdoor plans.

upside down boyI think we are ready for the cold. I’m really OK with the remaining tomatoes turning to mush. The love in my life warms me from the inside out. Now, if I could just harness the internal combustion engine that is menopause into some method to heat water pipes, we’d be all set!

Living Gently-With Myself

I woke up early this morning. Get a cup of coffee, read my email, pack a backpack for swimming, find the bottom of my desk, look at my schedule and make sure I have everything I need for work. And then, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stuff myself in the car and head down the hill to the pool. I couldn’t face the shock of cold water at 5:30 in the morning. It somehow felt violent. The thought of it made me feel nauseous. I then, of course, beat myself up for being lazy.

It is Fall. The days are finally getting shorter. Shorter days means dinner, that happens after dark, is earlier. I can, and do, go to bed earlier. I should feel more rested, but my body screams for hibernation. I still wake up in the wee hours, light or not. I lay there and do a body scan and try to relax. My body hurts. My hands are stiff and sore, I have an elbow that has been giving me grief since summer. My legs are bruised from peeling rails, and I have a cut on a knee from where the draw knife slipped on a particularly stubborn piece of beetle infested bark. My back is tweaked from the contortions necessary to put stain on a shed that is built on ground that is anything but level. I hurt. I, of course, beat myself up for not being regular in a yoga practice that would help heal some of these hurts.

It is Fall, it is my season of grief. It starts on 9/11, with Jim’s tumorversary, and I know from experience that it won’t really lighten until after the anniversary of his death on 11/10. I can stay busy, be involved in my work, in the house building, with my animals, my friends and my love. But, the grief follows me around like a black cloud, wakes me up at night, and hits me in the middle of my chest when I least expect it. I beat myself up for not being grateful every minute for meaningful work, the nest of my friends and community, and the second chance of a great love at this point in my life.

It is Fall, and we have made great progress on the land and our future home. The infrastructure is in, we finally have clear well water, the horses are happily grazing in the pasture we have fenced, and our house is being built by wizards. Our work is slowing down, but there is always something to do. Briar roses to be pulled, trees to be thinned and limbed, grass to be planted and garden beds to be prepared. As work on the land slows, professional work has stepped up. Greg has been gone at trainings more than he has been home during the week. I have taken on additional PT work to continue living within our means. I do good work, and my leaning curve on the land work has been steep. But, I never feel quite good enough at any of it.

This morning, I did not go swimming. I made myself some juice, and a big bowl of oatmeal. I let the black cloud wash over me, and then I let it pass. I am remembering, that if I am to live gently on this earth, I need to start by being gentle on myself. I am not perfect. I am not a boundless ball of energy. I do not always know what to do, or what to say. But, perhaps I am good enough.






Mom's bedroom

Mom’s bedroom

The trim I cannot reach

The trim I cannot reach

The trim I can reach

The trim I can reach

future fence rails

future fence rails

Our can

Our can

clear water, finally

clear water, finally

Happy horses

Happy horses

Being a Girl

green grass of homeWe are in the middle of a heat wave here on the Palouse. Predicting 90’s, it has only hit the high 80’s on my backyard thermometer, but it sure feels hotter than that in the direct sun. It is before 10 am, and already 83, so I think today is going to break that lucky streak. Greg is in New York for the week. He is visiting family and working on the place he just sold as a condition of the sale. He is digging trenches, laying pipe, and filling back in. He is tired of digging. Just before he left, we dropped our pump into the well and ran electric and water line back up to the shed so we could pump water up to the pasture with a diesel generator. Until then, we were hauling 8 gallon pickle barrels back and forth from home. While Greg is in New York, I am taking care of our horses. Right now, that means moving 1/2 a bale of hay twice per day, keeping our water buckets full, and hauling a trailer load of poop every other day to the manure pile. Every other trailer load, I fire up the tractor and push the poop into the pile. It is hot. The horses are cranky. They’d rather be eating the green grass on the other side of the fence than hay. Our well water is not treated yet, and has mud and iron in it. This morning, I got there before the heat hit, and the generator wouldn’t start. I checked the fuel, I checked the oil. I clicked the run/start button a few times and tried again. I called Greg, but there is little he can do from New York.running water!

When I was a kid, I was what they then called a tomboy. I was often found up in trees, liked hunting for turtles and snakes, and always preferred my brother’s hand-me-downs to the pink frilly things that came from the neighbor’s daughter. One of my favorite after school activities was meeting my best friend up at the school playground and riding our bikes full speed through the mud puddles that formed underneath the trapeze bar swings after it rained. Other than insisting that my clothes go straight to the basement rather than down the laundry chute, my parents tolerated my behavior. My dad even encouraged it. When I asked him, as a flat chested 5th grader, if I could go topless for the duration of a backcountry canoe trip because it was unfair that boys got to be comfortable in the heat, he just shrugged and said go ahead. On weekends, I loved hanging out in my dad’s basement shop. He taught me how to use a table saw and a power drill. I made gerbil houses out of used lumber, and savored the iron tang of holding nails in my mouth while I hammered. When my parents divorced while I was in high-school, I had to learn girl chores as well. I took over the family laundry, had dinner started before my mom returned from her full-time job, and learned how to budget and do my own finances. My mom advised that I always be able to take care of myself, and it was a lesson that has carried me far in this life.childhood

When Jim and I married, I knew that I had joined forces with an adventurer. His passions were the out-of-doors and music and home chores were just, chores. When kids and homeownership entered the scene, that did not really change. He took the family on great outdoor adventures, I made sure everyone was fed and had clothes. He bought rafting equipment and bicycles, I made sure there was money left for groceries, kid’s activities, and retirement. He went on solo trips to recreate after school got out for summer, I built shelves and bed frames. He guided back-country ski trips, I shoveled snow. Jim built trails on the mountain, I did all the yard work, planted the garden and put up the harvest. I used my table saw experience and learned to use a router to do all the finish work in our house, I sent him to the building store for supplies and asked him to pick up a few groceries as well. I tackled minor appliance repair and electrical work and as our income grew a bit, we hired the big stuff out: a sprinkler system, a kitchen remodel, a back porch that actually shed snow away from the door, a xeriscaped front yard. When Jim got sick and then died, there was an outpouring of support from the community. Money and meals. Help with the yard work and plumbing. Organization of adventures and being invited to simply join in. For a while, I had more help around the place than I had ever had while Jim lived. But time marched on, grief faded, and everybody returned to their own lives and challenges. I went back to taking care of myself, a lesson I learned well. Living within my means, learning how to fix a toilet, do concrete work, and cleaning the gutters. I tried to repair my lawn mower, cried uncle, and hired it out. Adventures only happened if I organized them on the river

When I met Greg, one of things I found most attractive was his passion for life and learning new things. He also knew how to take care of himself, his horses, his tools and his machinery. One night, in a moment of weakness, I admitted to him that I was tired. Tired of having to do it all myself. Tired of tackling all the girl chores as well as those that were more traditionally done by boys. I asked, close to tears, “If we end up together, can I just focus on the girl chores for a while, would you do the boy jobs?” It was pouring rain that night. As he shrugged into his slicker to go out and tend to the horses, he replied, “Sure, I really like and prefer them anyhow.” I stayed in by the fire and washed the dishes. Happiness.manifold destiny

When Greg and I decided to purchase and develop land, I knew it would be a process. I knew, that by his side, I could and would continue to learn new things. Though I often defer to his strength and level of experience in building and the infrastructure world, I want to be involved and understand everything he is doing and setting up. To say my learning curve has been steep is the understatement of the century. I’ve learned to drive an ATV and our tractor. I can now use the backhoe to rip out sweet briar rose bushes and am getting a bit better with pushing poop with the bucket. I know there is a difference between an impact and a power drill and can even drive screws without having Greg wince at each one. I can limb with a chain-saw, and if it is not too big, I can even safely fell a diseased tree. I can pound in T posts and rip them out. I am not scared of the horses and can make sure they both get equal rights to the feed even when the dominant one decides to be cranky. As he teaches, as I observe, I am learning new skills but also constantly thinking about how I could tackle those skills if I had to do them myself. Taking care of myself is a lesson I learned well, and I know from personal experience that there is no guarantee that Greg will always be here. I am a girl. I do things differently. I cannot lift 8 gals of water, but I can lift 6 more than once. I cannot get my arms all the way around a half bale of hay, but the horses leave me alone if I give them part of it through the fence, and then hand cart the rest up into the shade. My shoulders give out quickly if I use the big chainsaw to peel bark off of rails, but I can peel a pile in less than a day using a hand tool and my own thoughts for company. I’m taking care of myself. I’m doing the girl chores. I’m also figuring out how to do the boy jobs in a girl way. Greg and I are both looking forward to simpler times, a time when he can do the boy jobs and I can do girl chores. That time will come, it is a process.jail

So, this morning the generator wouldn’t start. We no longer have running water at the shed. I loaded the blue barrels and hose into the car and headed down to the vacant neighbor’s to fill up. Glad I had a back up plan, but damn, 8 gals of water weighs a lot and the horses go through about 20 gals/day. Since the time I started writing this and now, the temperature has officially surpassed the 90 degree mark. It will get hotter as the afternoon progresses, and I will return at the peak of it and haul 6 gallons of water at a time and fill buckets. I will feed cranky horses. Greg talked me through a fuel filter change on the phone, but I am crying uncle. That is a boy job. Greg will do it when he gets back. I will watch and I’ll be thinking about how to do it in a girl way. As I wait til it’s feeding time again, I am doing girl chores. Picked berries. Made pie. I’d gladly trade the biggest piece for some generator repair work……pie


sustainability fairThis last weekend, Greg and I participated in the first annual sustainability fair held at PCEI. First Wind Palouse had donated some grant money to PCEI for their Rose Creek Native Prairie Project, putting Greg’s company in the “premier partner” class at the fair. Taking time away from our home project on a Saturday, Greg asked me to join him in sitting at a table, handing out swag and answering questions. Dressed in identical First Wind t-shirts, jeans and boots, I felt a little silly. I never got into that whole “wear your boyfriend’s letter jacket” thing in high school, and the only time I wore Jim’s ski pants was when I was 6 months pregnant. I also did not feel I could adequately share information about the wind farm, being in human services rather than a wind engineer. Still, Greg took off for a walk and food, and I surprised myself by how much I actually DID know. Questions were relatively easy. “How many turbines?”, “Why are wind farms set in the places they are?”, “How much electricity do they produce?”, “How does it work with the local farmers?” And, of course the easiest, “Can I have a t-shirt?”

retaining wallGreg and I are building a home on 80 acres of undeveloped land about 20 minutes north of Moscow. Undeveloped means no infrastructure. No water, no sewer, no power, no building site. In an effort to save money for the building itself, Greg has been working his a– off (literally, he’s lost about 15#) getting the infrastructure in prior to breaking ground next month. Sustainable living is important to both of us. With every purchase, with every decision, with every installation, there are common questions. “How can we reduce the impact, how can we reduce the cost, how can we reduce the amount of our time and energy this is taking?” “What used materials can we use, how can we reuse everything from rocks to topsoil, what about rainwater collection and grey water for eventual irrigation?” In the reduce, re-use, recycle paradigm, putting out a pail for aluminum drink cans was pretty easy. Buying new water pipe for our main service from the well and using salvaged fiber-optic casing for horse watering seems a good compromise. Meticulously separating rocks, from clay, from topsoil during excavation ensures a place to grow food in the future.  Utility poles salvaged from a local utility company have become our retaining wall. Hardware removed from those poles makes great tool hangers in the shed, and the copper wire and fence staples removed will likely fund a few more beverages contained in recyclable aluminum cans.infrastructure

In this phase of the process, Greg and I make a pretty good team. There doesn’t seem to be a tool or piece of machinery that he doesn’t have reasonable familiarity with, and he has a great engineering mind. He has lots of fast twitch muscle fibers for the heavy work, and I have the endurance to be helpmate all day long. I ask questions and, by answering, he thinks things through. He gets great satisfaction from starting something new, I feel peaceful when I can work on the same mundane task all day long. He builds the wall, I remove all the wire and staples from the utility poles, we both fill in the holes with rocks and gravel. He brings me a pile of bug killed ponderosa pine, I peel them to turn them into rails, we both build a fence. He salvages rope, I untangle it, then he holds up the pump while I tie the knot. He works in the hole, I run back and forth for supplies, and we share a beer when the work is done. He burns calories, I make food, we have a meal. We make a good team. I am not a hired laborer, we are partners. If Greg needed a hired hand, he would not hire a 5’2″, 105#, 54-year-old woman. fence rails

It is a crazy pace that we have kept these last few months. We both know that the energy and time we are putting in is not sustainable. We are both looking forward to simpler times and a return of balance in our lives. I still run and swim, and Greg crams his yoga into a lunch break. There are no big river or horseback riding trips planned for the summer.  But, I remind myself that this is a season, and seasons pass. Much like taking the time to nurse a baby through her first year, this is our year of construction. I don’t regret nursing my children, and I know I won’t regret the energy we are putting into our land. Sustainability takes a conscious and constant effort.balance


Last week I finished my 27th year of working with kids with disabilities in the school system. “School’s Out for Summer” is not just a song, it is not just an audible cry emanating from the mouths of public school kids nationwide. Teachers feel it, support staff shout it, we all are ready for June by about mid-May. This year I was exhausted. More than ever, I felt a need to get away from everything for a while. We’d moved the horses to the new property a few weeks ago, Greg has been madly doing double shifts between work and infrastructure development, my kids have been in and out as rafting season is gearing up for Emerald and the school year/move from one place to the next/summer employment transition is upon Jasper. My aunt Jane had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and was not bouncing back well from her first bout of chemo. My monkey mind was keeping me awake at night, and the script was getting old and progressively more negative. I was in desperate need of recreation, but what my soul needed was re-creation.

When Greg stated that he would be taking a few days off of paid work and had lined up a local excavator to get our retaining wall installed, I decided to get out of town for awhile. Other than feeding him and shoveling horse poop (2 chores Greg says he does not need me for, but secretly I think he enjoys that I do), there was little I could do to help him out. I knew that relating the progress daily would just be an added stressor for him, so I left him with my dog, and took off. I did a 4 day solo backpack trip up the Selway River Trail #4, from Race Creek to the Moose Creek Ranger station and back. I’ve always wanted to see that stretch of whitewater at peak flows, and being the piglet boater that I am, I knew that it would never be from a raft. Knowing I could not round up another able body at short notice, and feeling like I wouldn’t be good company for anyone but myself, I packed a nice pack with 30% of my body weight and took off.

What I realized very quickly was that though I was solo, I was anything but alone:

My friends were with me. I told a few of them of my plans and was told that I was both brave and stupid. Both turned out to be true. One of my girlfriends loaned me a lightweight hiking pole, supposedly to fend off snakes in the tall grass. It did not get used much for that, but it did make 90% of the creek crossings safe and dry, and took some of the strain from a pack that was too heavy off of my aging joints. She was literally holding my right hand for every step of the 50 miles that I walked.

The Naked Clan of Elvis was with me. The last time I had seen that stretch of the Selway River was in  August of 1997 when the gauge at Paradise was reading 1 foot and dropping fast. Jim and I, river guides prior to marriage and kids, figured that form of recreation was going to have to be put on hold for the next 10 years. We had bought an inflatable kayak, took the kids out once on a mellow section of the Salmon, had a cold, wet time, and promptly shelved that dream for the foreseeable future. A last minute invite from a friend, Jim’s insistence that I go, and in 2 days I was descending the most pristine river in the lower 48 in an inflatable kayak. I met a couple who had been rafting with their twins since age 4. The next summer, when Jasper was 4, I pulled a Middle Fork permit. I called this couple, they supplied us with boats and expertise, and it was the beginning of rafting with our kids. What we learned enabled us to buy our own gear, put together trips, and invite other friends that had kids younger than our own.

My kids were with me. Having not backpacked seriously since before kids, I was not sure what to bring. Emerald’s advice regarding food was dead on. Sour Patch kids were a welcome diversion from everything seed and peanut based. The corn chowder was the best of the dehydrated mixes for a hot dinner. Wipes were nice when the only other option for bathing was 38 degree water.  Every night that I set up the lightweight tent that has historically been Jasper’s, I got a whiff of my son until that last night when I realized it finally smelled more like me than him as I extracted it from it’s stuff sack. He was in my head at trip’s end as I jumped in my car and traveled through space at a speed that human beings were never designed to move at.

Jim was there. After one of our final hikes as Jim was dying, he wanted to stop and buy something at Hyperspud Sports. Not really needing anything for himself, he bought me the nice Osprey backpack that I took on this trip. He just stated, knowingly, that I would need this. It’s as if he knew, that without him along to take me through the scary stretches, I would likely never raft big water without him. He knew that I loved to hike. Perhaps he knew that though a return to backpacking would never be in our future, it could and would be part of mine. Maybe he knew that the only way I would get out on the rivers that feed my soul would be by foot. It could have just been that Jim liked nice gear and wanted to support our local shop! On my last night’s camp, I went in search of an easy way to get to the creek for water. Following a needle covered trail, below some massive cedars, I found the “grown up beach”. A slow eddy, a sandy bottom, with a rock to stash my clothes, I did what we always did upon finding the hidden beach away from the main camp. Emerging from the 38 degree water, gasping and shivering, my eyes lit upon an exquisite piece of rose quartz, sitting exposed upon a boulder. It was as if Jim left it there in 2010 knowing I would find it. Gazing around and seeing just a bit of hypalon fabric stuck in the weeds by the creek mouth, confirmed it. I rejoiced.

Greg, though not physically by my side, was in my head and heart, for the entire time. He lives there. I would wake in the morning and know he was drinking coffee. His voice was in my head when I would make a mistake, and rather than get frustrated I would ask myself what I had learned from it. Our horses allowed me to share a camp one night with a couple of packers travelling from Weippe to Big Hole, and after initial wariness on both parts, bridge that divide with common ground, a shared fire, and humor at the contrast between ultralight backpacking and primitive style horse packing. Greg was with me every night as I crawled into a tent that could have easily held 2 that love to sleep entwined. It was great comfort to know that on the Palouse there was a man that missed me as much as I missed him and that in the wee hours we were looking at the same moon.

I learned some things on this trip:

  • 30% of your body weight is too heavy to carry on an extended backpacking trip. I fixed this mistake by pushing onward the first day so I could do 20 miles of out and back on the second with a lightweight pack.
  • River miles do not equal hiking miles. The river takes a much more direct route.
  • Like rafting, it is always easier to go downstream. Unlike rafting, an upstream breeze is a pleasure.
  • A good pair of hiking boots are worth their weight in gold.
  • Wool socks take forever to dry even with sun and wind, and it really doesn’t matter.
  • Solid footing is more important than dry feet.
  • If I am allergic to pine pollen, it is not any better on the river than it is in the woods.
  • I don’t think there is a safe route through Ladle at 10 ft on the gauge.
  • When a back-country pilot, headed in the opposite direction on the trail, offers me a frosty beverage from the back of his plane, make sure to get a description of the plane. There is often more than one plane at Moose Creek.
  • When a ranger station is left unmanned and unlocked, it is not a crime to use the wash house. The back country pilots I ran into later were thankful for the shower I stole.
  • Snakes hate to get stepped on more than I hate to step on them. I saw lots of snakes, about 75% of them rattlers, and 75% of those were trying very hard to get away from me.
  • Rattlesnakes can leap, and they can perch in the branches of trees if that is where they land after said leap.
  • Rattlesnakes can pivot when coiled to keep me constant in their sights as I make a 10 foot radius detour around them.
  • Weed free hay and weed free home pastures are a must for horses that travel in our wilderness areas. Seed travels long distances in the form of poop, and once weeds are established the only control is via backpack sprayer which is not very effective. Leaving poop in the trail is better than spreading it and its seeds down the hillside.
  • Though lightweight backpacking may leave less of a visible impact on the land camped upon than primitive horse packing, the environmental cost for the manufacture of the goods that enabled me to do so is steep. Nylon tents, gortex bags, prepackaged butane/propane canisters, dehydrated food and plastic bags. Then there is the transportation to get to and from the trailhead.
  • Idaho is a small town. It took less than 5 minutes of conversation with strangers to find a common friend, and to realize I need to call her and see how she is doing after her back surgery.
  • Campfires are meant to be shared. Songs and stories happen there.
  • Human beings consume a LOT of fresh water. Treating every 750ml that I needed to stay hydrated and to cook made this fact apparent. We are so lucky to live in a state with massive amounts of untamed fresh water. I never take that for granted.
  • Yoga on the beach makes me smile.
  • A dress and flip flops are still the perfect camp garb. Wool is better than cotton for hiking.
  • Sun screen, sun glasses and brimmed hats are nice. Shade is better.
  • Wild strawberries are sweeter than anything I can buy.
  • Knick Knick is my favorite ground cover.
  • I can sleep a nine hour night. 3 nights in a row. I can even take a one hour nap and still sleep at night.
  • When food is fuel, it is amazing how much I can eat. I came home with 2 Clif bars and a much lighter pack.
  • It takes at least 3 days for monkey mind to cease. None of us should work more than 4 days a week.

I am out of the wilderness safe and sound. My body is recovering nicely, my mind is at rest, my heart is overflowing and my soul is at peace. The bittersweet hole in my heart was filled at first hug. I returned to a tick infested dog who is scheduled to get clipped for the first time of her life tomorrow. Emerald is home for a bit between trips and talks fondly of a rafting mentee who was one of those kids we took rafting for the first time years ago. Jasper is in the thick of finals after a weekend at HOBY Idaho, and I cannot get ahold of him. Our horses are looking so healthy with green grass in their bellies and a muscles from being ridden every night through our hills. My Aunt Jane, died on my last morning out, a day shy of her 81st birthday. Her sister, my mom, grieves by washing windows. I spent the day pounding in T-stakes for the horses, shoveling horse poop, cleaning a week’s worth of Palouse dust from everything, and trying to catch up on emails. This day is a gift, as are all days. The origin of the word recreation is “mental or spiritual consolation”. The river soothes me. Recreation is the action or process of creating something again. For me, the divine exists in the wild and natural world, and in the love that exists between people (and perhaps their animals). My trip up the Selway created that awareness in me again. I hope not to ever forget that.

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It is Ren Fair weekend. Ren Fair marks the beginning of Spring. The first farmer’s market is today, and I picked up my first CSA share on Thursday. Spring on the Palouse means that it can be close to 80˚ one day, and then snowing and windy the next. Everyone is anxious to see the Winter to come to an end. Sunny days tease us into thinking the heat is here to stay, but if it did so many things would suffer. My cold weather crops of peas and spinach need the rain, as does the grass seed I just planted in the holes in our pasture. The horses are not in shape for heat along with the hills we are beginning to ask them to ride. There is so much that can and should be done in this transition season. Sweet briar rose to be pulled, weeds to be treated, and the ground is perfect for a pulaski to build trail beds. So much to do, so little time. I feel a bit like a 5 yr old with attention deficit disorder. Time flies by so quickly.

Seasons of the year mark time, and as I watch them rush by I am thinking of seasons of life. Babies are still being born, friend’s kids are getting married, my kids are spread out over the west, and my parent’s generation is winding down. My dad is recovering from heart surgery and lymphoma treatment, my aunt was just diagnosed with lung cancer. My mom contemplates a retirement facility, and opts for just mowing 1/2 her yard in any one day. I feel this middle season of my life. I do not have the energy to work a 10 hour workday and then put in the 2nd shift on the yard or house. A bike ride or a yoga class means that I am too physically spent to then spend 4 hours building trail. Middle of life season screams of trade offs. Money, time, and my energy are finite resources. Shopping lists, to do lists, lining out any given day are constants. Sometimes I just want the world to stop for a day so I can catch up.

But, every day is precious. I am well aware of the gift that every day brings. I stop. I sit on my horse. I talk to my daughter who puts on the Grand Canyon tomorrow. I make bacon for my son and his girlfriend, here for a short visit. I watch the sunset and walk down to the well for a very cold shower, knowing the heat will be here to stay soon. I am grateful. Grateful for this day. Grateful for the love I currently have in my life. Grateful for children successfully launched into the world. Grateful because I have this day, and others have been denied that gift. I really don’t want the world to stop. I just need to stop more often.

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